Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cyborg cat

I always thought it was pretty silly to put wheels under a pet animal who misses a part of his hind legs. Here's the solution in the form of a pair of prosthetic paws for a cat named Oscar. Apparently it was not so simple to get the skin to grow onto the artificial limbs. In the end, it all worked out wonderfully, and Oscar can continue his jolly frolicking. If you want to know more, watch the BBC documentary 'The Bionic Vet'.

3D LEGO instructions

This technology would have freed up a lot of time in my childhood years, as I spent hours figuring out where that one LEGO element needed to be put. On the other hand, isn't the endless puzzling an intrinsic part of the creative process, and the satisfaction resulting from completing such a complex task? Doesn't this prepare children for the inherent complexity of the world, by showing them directly that the things around them can be purely the result of their own actions?

Yes, technologies like augmented reality can make things all too easy. But it depends on how they are used. They can also completely change the paradigm of instruction manuals. What if it challenged children to memorize the construction process visually? This would take them more and more out of associative, language-based thinking, and stimulate holistic, visual model-based thinking. Which is crucial in developing creative intelligence.

I sometimes wonder if everybody will be a genius in, say, 50 years.

Sculpting with pixels

We've seen it before that artists show a natural form as if it was digitally constructed. But every time we see such a thing, we can't help but being impressed by the beautiful strangeness of it. Here's another artist who shows what digitized nature can look like: Shawn Smith. This Austin-based pixelpaster creates sculptures from strips of MDF wood, painted in a dazzling array of colors. Check out the pictures.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Robotic miniblimps

And a soft female voice speaks with a lovely techno-optimistic undertone: "It flies, filling the sky with colorful light, and produces diverse styles of performance in the air"

This interactive airballoon is called 'Beatfly', and was created by Hideki Yoshimoto. as an open-source project based on the Arduino platform.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Four-legged human exoskeleton and a robotic jumper

The guys at Chiba Institute of Technology know what they're doing.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Robot babies

The Japanese have done it again. They set another step towards replacing themselves with this robot baby, cutely called 'Noby'.

The rationalization behind the project is that the prototype should help scientists understand the learning process of infants. This they intend to do by programming several behaviors into the babybot, seeing how they react to actual, meat-based people, and comparing this to the behavior of real children.

Next to the knowledge generated by the project, the scientists state that this project should lead to the development of more human-like robots with better social behavior.

Noby is also quite a technological feat: it simulates the human senses with cameras, microphones, and 600 sensors that allow it to feel touch.

If I may suggest an improvement, I would press on the aesthetic of the thing: from a superficial perspective, it just looks rather creepy. If we want robotic realizations to radiate a positive light towards the 'mainstream' people, it starts by the simple notion of making it look nice and acceptable. Noby was definitely born in the uncanny valley, and needs to start crawling its way up like a baby turtle to the sea.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

the empathic civilization

In this playful animation, Jeremy Rifkin pleads for empathy as the key principle for a new civilization. He starts from the discovery of mirror neurons to explain that we are soft-wired for empathy, and explains:

- Development of selfhood is directly linked to empathic development
- Empathy is key for coping with suffering and death, during the "existential trip" that life is
- The empathy civilization is no utopia, as in a utopia there is no mortality so there is no empathy. "There is no empathy in heaven"
- Civilization is empathization. Through empathy we can "cohere into larger social units".
- Currently we have developed empathy for a large social group called the nation state. But this nation state is a fiction created by markets. Now we need to extend our empathy to all humans, all other creatures, as well as the biosphere.
- Technology extends the nervous system to think viscerally as one family. Twitter is a good example of this, as there was a huge empathic response during the time of the Haiti earthquake.

Well, I couldn't agree more. I know that a life of consciously limiting your empathy and identifying with one particular social group, as opposed to others, is somewhat nice and comfortable. But once you step out of it, you realize that it's just not worth it playing such games all your life and missing out on the larger things you can discover. Empathizing with others can lead you to this ultimate transcendence of identifications, and help you merge into something larger, something extremely beautiful, something supreme. I know this is hard, but what works for me is to just stay aware of your less empathic tendencies, and when they arise, think in terms of empathy to slowly rewire yourself and your reactions until it becomes natural for you.

I like how Rifkin mentions technology as a large factor in developing universal empathy. My thoughts has been pointing towards this too, as our civilization relies more on technology than on psycho-spiritual methods of self-transformation. When we can develop technologies that consciously and unconsciously guide people towards empathy, we can realize first this global civilization and later perhaps what you could call a cosmic civilization.

In a cosmic civilization, people don't just empathize with organic or living things, but empathy is extended to everything that we interact with, including 'inanimate' things like technological objects. In this civilization, people realize that the difference between life and death is a fiction too, and that all human behavior can be described as a machine. That in fact, thinking of yourself in terms of a mechanism liberates you from all your worries, and makes the 'you' you think you are immerse into what you really are: consciousness. Thus liberated from form-identifications, triggered by the development of universal empathy, we realize ourselves not just as humans, but as what you could call cosmic consciousness.

the electronic craftsman

'l'Artisan electronique', or the electronic craftsman, is an installation that lets people craft an object similarly to how a potter uses a pottery wheel. The only difference is that the process is simulated digitally, and users get visual feedback on a screen. At the end of the process, the finished digital file is printed by a 3d printer. We indeed seem to be heading to a new age of arts and crafts, where the physicality of the materials is simulated, so we can use any software tool to create whatever we like.

Monday, June 7, 2010

using your own body in a combat video game

With the agility of a supermonkey and a peace-sign on his shirt, the kid in the movie below shows the stylish skills he developed while playing on a system developed in Finland by the Virtual Air Guitar Company. The system films the user and puts him straight into a virtual world, where in this particular game he has to fight off enemies with the movements of his own body. It's great that we keep on waving bye-bye to button-pushing in many areas of human-computer interaction, but although they might rid us from obesity and laziness, of course the new interaction styles will present their own challenges, which may even be vaster to overcome.

One of these is that using your body for a world that's still hidden behind a screen makes not only the mind, but also the body more apathetic. It's already known that soldiers tend to sooner make a kill if their actions are mediated through a screen-based interface, removed from the actual location. And I don't doubt that videogames can tip people into behaviors in the 'real world' in which they mentally distance themselves from the consequences of their actions. If we now start to physically interact with our computers, we are teaching our bodies movement habits that we will also tend to try to employ in the 'real' world, simply because these movements get so deeply ingrained into us.

If we are going to treat our world like a video game, we will probably overcome fear of death, but apathy is the next danger. We need to make sure that the behaviors we teach ourselves through interaction with technology will be mindful, and in line with reflections of the ethical kind.

adidas goes AR

Adidas has launched a line of sneakers that allow you to use it as a game controller. And the promo videos are not to miss. The shoes have a QR ("Quick Response") code printed on the tongue that enables your webcam to see how you're holding your shoe. Adidas is very much employing new technology as a branding feature here, as I don't see a whole lot of practical uses in holding your shoe -especially when it's all old and smelly- in front of your pc. But some interesting apps that encourage people to get more physical with their pc may pop up. How about playing first-person soccer with your own feet, personal dance lessons with direct feedback, or a virtual running coach that sees how you run?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

more things popping up

Somehow I find these paper pop-up things greatly inspiring. There's just so much potential if you translate these intricate mechanisms to structures in mass-produced consumer products like cars or interactive walls.

Friday, June 4, 2010

paper pop-up sculptures

Here's a series of very nice pop-up sculptures by Peter Dahmen, presented in a very clean and modernistic way.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

furniture pets

There you go, furniture that becomes your pet through displaying simplistic behaviors like neediness, anger, and sexual excitement. I love these crude experiments in product movement. No matter how silly these explorations are, they can still bring knowledge and ideas to the companies that are actually going to implement product behavior on a massive scale.